It’s noon on Ninth Street near Fitzwater in South Philadelphia, and the store’s front door clicks open to admit the first customers of the day at Angelo’s Pizzeria, which opened last month. If it’s a typical day, owner Danny DiGiampietro will run out of dough, lock the door about 6 p.m., clean up, and go home.
All without a phone. He said he is afraid to get one now.
Too bad for the customer who has only a half-hour for lunch and has to order, as well as scarf down a pizza or a sandwich at the side rail in the unadorned shop.
Among pizza cognoscenti, Angelo’s was a thing even before it opened. “He does everything wrong: He doesn’t food-cost anything,” says Gregorio Fierro, a consultant well-known within the local pizza trade. “He just makes perfect food. If he had a money guy [as a partner], he would be making a fortune.”
“The money is not important," DiGiampietro says.
In a business in which many pizza makers ferment their dough for only a day before topping it, DiGiampietro will let his sit for up to 13 days. The result: light, airy pies, whether the square “grandma” and upside-down pizzas, or the round New York style. His imported flour, says Fierro, costs three times what many other shops pay.
He doesn’t have a freezer, either; the chicken cutlets for his sandwiches are breaded that day and fried to order.
DiGiampietro ran a pizzeria in Haddonfield for a few years before a former deli became available up the street from Sarcone’s Bakery, owned by his wife’s family. After more than a year of work, including a new sewer line, complete electrical and plumbing upgrades, and the installation of a tricked-out Polin multideck oven, Angelo’s soft-opened on Jan. 22.
Nine days in, DiGiampietro was home asleep in South Jersey when his alarm company called to report a fire. A floor beam beneath the oven had begun smoldering, and firefighters chopped into it to extinguish the smoke.
“We are a wood-fired pizza joint,” DiGiampietro joked on Instagram. But it was no laughing matter. Twelve days and thousands of dollars in repairs later, Angelo’s was back in business.
DiGiampietro, 46, grew up in South Philadelphia. As a kid at his father’s corner pizzeria at Fifth and Watkins Streets, he used to stretch dough over bare lightbulbs to create his own pizza. But he didn’t go pro until he was nearly 41.
As a young man, he had dreams of being a star chef. He moved to Miami to attend cooking school and landed a job with chef Allen Susser. After five years, he says, he got homesick.
While waiting to intern at Le Bec-Fin, he helped his friend Michael Abruzzi at his South Philadelphia bread bakeries, growing fascinated with the process.
One day, DiGiampietro packed up a van with bread and drove to the Mount Laurel home of a man who made a living as a bread jobber — a middleman who buys bread from bakeries and distributes it to restaurants and pizzerias.
Tony the bread guy was having a barbecue that day and the Abruzzi rolls in DiGiampietro’s truck were for sandwiches. DiGiampietro pulled up outside and gawked. “It was this giant house that looked like a mansion,” DiGiampietro says. “I asked him what his wife did for a living. He said she doesn’t work. I do this. His bread truck is parked outside. I called Michael and said, ‘I need a bread route.’ ”
Goodbye, fine dining.
For years, that’s what he did — getting up at 4 a.m. to run rolls from Abruzzi, Carangi, Cascia, and Sarcone’s to wholesale customers, such as DiNic’s and the early Primo shops. Good money, great gossip.
“Then I thought, if I make that much money delivering bread, imagine what I can do if I make it,” he says. He was dating (and later married) Lauren Ianarella, whose mother, Linda, is the daughter of Louis Sarcone Sr., whose son and grandson operate the bakery now.
After pumping Louis Sr. for info and reading books about bread in those pre-YouTube days, he bought a bread bakery at Eighth and Watkins Streets. “I’m working like 24 hours a day, and I didn’t make a dime,” DiGiampietro says. “I know how to make bread, just not make money making bread."
DiGiampietro was still running his bread route, yet losing money on the bakery. By then, Lauren had just delivered their daughter, Luciana, who is now almost 8.
While running bread in Haddonfield, he came upon a shuttered pizzeria on Haddon Avenue. "She said, ‘What do you know about pizza?’ I said, ‘It’s just bread with tomato sauce and cheese.’ I told her, ‘Give me one year,’ ” he said. He sold the bakery and with $5,000, in 2014 opened Angelo’s, naming it after their son, who was born 10 months after Luciana.
Angelo’s caught on. When the Ninth Street location — in the former Sarcone’s Deli — became available, he grabbed it. Thinking that he would open soon, he closed Haddonfield. That was premature. “I should have had a general contractor,” DiGiampietro said. “I tried to do it myself.”
He finally gave up the bread route at the end of the year as the opening grew closer.
Nowadays, he is sweating out a labor problem, which is cutting into the shop’s hours.
“I just don’t have the manpower to get ahead of prep,” he said this week. Many employees don’t seem to last. “One guy quit after a little more than a few hours,” DiGiampietro says.